For nearly three decades now, Derrick McCray has served as the CEO of McCray’s Backyard BBQ and Seafood, a Black family-owned restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida. His great-uncle, Jay Harvey, opened the restaurant almost 90 years ago in 1934. As both CEO and pitmaster, Derrick has worked hard to preserve the restaurant using his family’s rich traditions and flavors that have delighted patrons for decades.
“Uncle Jay brought my father up in the barbecue business and made him a barbecue extraordinaire,” he told CNBC. “He was the barbecue man. And he was pretty much the only black restaurant business in his area during that time.”
In the midst of historical challenges, from segregation to the civil rights movement, the restaurant served as a safe haven for people to enjoy a good meal and companionship. Over the years, the restaurant stood strong against several challenges, even threats from the Klan. But the “war on drugs” in 1971 took a toll on the community and the business.
Derrick stepped up to restore the family business, following in his father and uncle’s footsteps. But his journey to becoming CEO was not without twists and turns.
While studying business management at Florida A&M University, an HBCU, he was sidetracked by the life of a student-athlete. He had to leave college earlier than planned, but he learned to hustle during this time, selling hotdogs and even starting a magazine with a friend. He also played professional football but it was a career cut short because of his off-field activities. Those setbacks eventually led him back to the family BBQ business.
Despite the changing times, McCray’s Backyard BBQ and Seafood continues to cook with open pit wood, preserving the authentic flavors passed down through generations. Their signature barbecue sauce and desserts reflect the family’s cherished recipes.
The restaurant’s success is evident, generating $1.58 million in revenue last year, with a $230,000 annual net profit. They’ve served esteemed guests, including presidents and musicians, and at events like the Super Bowl.
Moreover, Derrick has ambitious plans for the future. He aims to expand the family business nationwide, raising capital for his first franchise location. But his vision extends beyond profits. He is passionate about hiring and mentoring young Black and Hispanic people, teaching them skills from cooking to running a business, all aimed at creating generational wealth. His two sons are also being groomed to continue the family tradition.
“It’s in my DNA to keep moving forward,” he said. “I don’t see a reason why the McCray’s can’t be like the Rockefellers or the Posts or other big families that have secured generational wealth.”
Learn more about McCray’s Backyard BBQ and Seafood via its official website at McCraysBBQ.com
Also, be sure to follow the restaurant on Instagram @McCrays_Backyard_BBQ